Pirates vs Red Sox 6-26-11

It was a date circled on the calendar for some time for Pirate fans. The weekend that the much-hyped Boston Red Sox made their appearance. Couple that with the fact that the Battling Buccos were still staying in the hunt, would make this a very intense series.

I was unable to attend the games Friday and Saturday due to being away on vacation, and was impressed with the team effort taken to win both those games. I fully expected this series to be the beginning of the end for the Pirates, but then again has anything gone according to plan in 2011?

I arrived to the ballpark and hour before game time. All I could think was “Wow!” The Clemente Bridge was packed with people, Federal Street was bustling more than any game I had ever seen. I guess this is what the big time feels like.

For the third time this season, and the second time in the series, the Pirates set an all-time attendance record. It was as close to a playoff atmosphere as the park has seen in it’s 10 year history.

As for the game, Pirate James McDonald went against Andrew Miller of the BoSox. McDonald was his usual self, throwing a ton of pitches, but not giving up many runs. It would be the fielding that would cost the Bucs the chance at the sweep. Andrew McCutchen’s horrible throwing/fielding decisions cost the team it’s first run. I love the bat and speed from Cutch, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired.

The Pirates would take advantage of Boston errors to get the lead 2-1 however, but it wouldn’t last. A ball thrown into centerfield by McDonald on a bunt let the Sox tie it up, and the next inning Boston broke it open despite not getting a single hit in two innings of scoring three runs. A tense moment came when pinch-hitter David Ortiz demolished a ball just foul that almost cleared the right field bleachers. He would walk and later score on a sac fly by barreling over new catcher Eric Fryer.

Down 4-2 the Pirates couldn’t muster another rally. Although the team lost because of poor pitching and fielding (numerous walks and three errors) I don’t think I’ve had more fun at a Pirate loss. I hope the team can keep it going and keep getting crowds like they are. It certainly would make for a memorable summer.

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2011 Topps Series 2 Box Break

For those of you that don’t know already, I am a huge nerd. I take pride in the things I collect, whether it be Pittsburgh Pirate programs, baseballs, or ticket stubs.

One thing that I recently got into has been the long-time hobby of collecting baseball cards. I was never into it much when I was little, but about two years ago I really got into it.

Starting last year, I made it a yearly goal to get all 660 cards that Topps has in its yearly set. I did it last year, and after getting the first 330 cards in Series 1 for about $15 on eBay, I’m well on my way to doing the same this year (though I’m also going after the additional 330 cards in the update that comes out this winter).

There is nothing quite like busting through a box of cards and seeing what you get. So shortly before coming home, I ordered a 36-pack box of Series 2 and it came in the other day. Here is what I pulled.

Base Cards: 227/330 (68.8%)

Though the base card design isn’t as good as the 2010 version in my opinion, Topps still has a great look to it. The photography continues to be really good, going beyond the static images of guys in their stances and wind-ups. I also got only two doubles besides the parallels, so that is always nice. Now comes the fun of trying to get the remaining 53 cards I need. To give you guys an idea what they look like, here are the Pirate cards I pulled (Note most of the good players were featured in Series 1).

I’m only one short as the Josh Rodriguez rookie didn’t come up in my box. Probably worth a whole two cents.

As with Topps’ main card set, the packs feature a ton of insert cards. In recent memory, a lot of them are trash-worthy and overkill. I’d much rather have a larger checklist of players then all these flimsy sub sets that I won’t collect. Let’s see what they had for Series 2.

Gold Parallel (Numbered to 2010) 3/330

These cards are essentially the same as the base, though they feature a gold border. Since they are harder to come by, they are meant to be more of a challenge to collect all 330. I don’t have the time or money to do that, so essentially these are worthless to me.

Diamond Parallel 9/330

Since this is Topps’ 60th anniversary of making cards, there is a diamond theme throughout the set. These parallels of the base cards are awesome. They feature a holographic twinkle to them that really looks cool. Though I won’t get all 330 of these, I’m definitely going after the Pirate ones, as they would look even better autographed.

Kimball Miniatures 9/50

These inserts are modeled after the Kimball mini-cards that appeared a long time ago. Series 2 featured cards numbered 51-100, and all of the subjects are former players (Series 1 was 1-50 and were all current players). These cards are nice, but are a pain in the butt to keep nice in a binder.

Diamond Stars 6/25

These cards really have no point to them, as you would have to live under a rock not to know about the players on them. However, a great holographic sparkle design like the parallels save them from being a waste.

Diamond Duos 9/30

These cards are the same as the “Legendary Lineage” ones seen in the 2010 edition, however instead of an old player being compared to a new one, it’s two players with something in common. Really no point to these, however I’ll hang on to the Andrew McCutchen/Pedro Alvarez one that I pulled.

Before There Was Topps 2/7

These cards detail various brands of baseball cards that were around before Topps. Yawn.

60 Years of Topps 15/58

These cards are reprints that are to give an example of each year’s design and a little lesson about the set of that year. Not too bad if this wasn’t basically the same thing as “The Cards Your Mom Threw Out” from last year. Nothing like getting “vintage” reprints from 2008 and 2009! Other than the Dave Parker Pirates card for 1975 and the Chris Carpenter rookie reprint that also has the original back to it, the rest are trash.

Topps 60 9/50

This set is supposed to chronicle the various leaders in statistical categories over the last 60 years. Some of them are flat-out stupid (Such as John Lester leading AL left-handed pitchers in strikeouts from 2008 to 2010) and some feature guys that barely crack the top 10 in some. Another dumb insert set.

Topps Town 6/50

Unlike last year when they came in every pack (and ended up in my trash), Topps Town code cards were harder to come by and were featured on nice holographic chrome stock. They also feature players other than the usual New York/Boston/Philadelphia players, making it a unique subset.

Prime 9 2/9

Unlike in past years, where each box came with a redemption card for a special “Red Hot Rookie”, Topps changed it up by starting the Prime 9 series. Basically, for a specific week, one of these cards can be turned in to your local hobby shop for a special chrome card. Each card is also good for an entry for a trip to the 2012 World Series. Though my Jose Tabata Red Hot Rookie card is one of my favorites, I can’t ¬†argue against a system that gets you a nice card similar to that in your hand before January. I’ll have to wait to see how it goes before giving it a thumbs up or down.

“Hits” (Relics/Autographs)
1 (Mark Texiera Topps 60 Game Used Jersey Card)

My one “hit” in this box was a good one. Since this is the 60th anniversary, Topps has bolstered their relic checklist, and I got very lucky getting a Yankee. Though I wish it was a pinstriped swatch, I can’t complain about it as I’ve gotten crap in boxes in the past.

Final Grade: B

Though the design has come a long way from the mid-2000s when it was awful, Topps still lacks some features that make it a perfect card set to collect. Like EA Sports’ exclusive rights with the NFL for video games, Topps is the only licensed producer of baseball cards now. This has led to a declining product quality and the rehashing of the same ideas over and over again. But flaws aside, the price is right at just $2 per pack making it an easy set to get into. I just wish they would take some elements from Upper Deck before they were out of the baseball market, offering more hits and cutting down on mundane insert sets for a bigger base.

If there is anyone else out there into collecting I highly suggest getting in contact with me as I’m always up for trading!

Four Games in Four Days: Pirates-Mets series

After turing in the dreaded Precision Language final early Thursday morning, I was free for the summer. After packing up and heading home, it was time to start enjoying my summer.

Lucky for me, the Pirates were wrapping up a season-long home stand with a four game series against the New York Mets. I have attended all games in a three game set before, but had never completed a four-game series. Here is a recap.

Friday

Back in the friendly confines of PNC Park for the first time in nearly 50 days (that’s a long time for a season ticket holder). It felt good to be back at my summer home. There was no one that I would rather have pitching my first game back than Charlie Morton.

He has been dynamite in 2011 for the Pirates, and he is always fun to watch. This night, however, the luck wouldn’t be on his side. The Mets took control early, and scored five runs in the fourth where every ball seemed to either drop in for a hit, or cause the Pirates to make an error. The offense that is suffering from many injuries couldn’t get anything started, and the Mets cruised to an easy 8-1 victory.

Despite that, it was a great night for a game

This guy, however, was put to sleep by the Pirates offensive woes.

Saturday

The next day’s game would be much more event-filled. I hadn’t gotten to see much batting practice so far in 2011, but today I got my chance. The gates opened at 4:30 for season ticket holders, and unlike other days, STHs get access to the whole bowl rather than just the bleachers. Since many had their sights focused on getting home run balls in left field, I picked the deserted seats down the third base line to get some snags.

I got my first ball shortly from pitching coach Ray Searage. Since the ball was close to where I was standing, and there was nobody else around, he had no choice but to throw it to me. At the same time, Jeff Karstents was trying to chuck some balls up to a kid with his mom in a suite in the upper deck. Since he came up short, the ball made it’s way down to me. I was able to throw it up to them. unbeknowst to me, there were some other kids up there too who also wanted balls. This is a nightmare for a ballhawk. Since I didn’t have any emotional attachment to the Searage ball I had a minute ago, I sent that one up. Pedro Ciriaco hit a ball into the 100 level seats down the line. A usher directed me to it, and it was ball number two on the day.

The Pirates ended practice shortly after, and the Mets came out to hit. I was still the only person down the baseline. Jose Reyes was the first to hit, and sent one of the first pitches he saw just over my head down the line. It landed in a seat a few rows back and I was able to pluck it up for ball number 3. Since the Mets players were ignoring the kids up above me, they began to call on me to throw yet another one up. Thinking on my feet, and not wanting to look like a jerk, I reached into my bag and threw up the Ciriaco ball. I didn’t want to get rid of the Reyes one I just got, he’s one of the best players that I’ve snagged a ball from. Jason Pridie of the Mets saw my act of goodwill and hooked me up shortly after.

With four balls on the day snagged, I got closer to the hitters to get better shots of them hitting.

After a little while, sluggers Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran were due up. I went out to the outfield seats to attempt to tie my career high of five baseballs. I played the less crowded right center field seats and waited for Beltran to hit one my way. He crushed a ball that I began to break back on toward the Riverwalk. I had overrun it and it was dropping short of me. A man with a glove dropped it into a handicapped seat at the top of the section. Another guy grabbing it pushed it to the seat where it rolled out. I got down and trapped it with my glove. A crazy fumblerooski to get my 5th ball.

I went to the bullpen to watch the pitchers warm up. The game featured an intriguing pitching match-up with the hard throwing James McDonald of the Pirates going against Met knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

I went to my seats to watch the game. It would be the first that Jason Bay had played in Pittsburgh since being traded in 2009. I could not understand for the life of me why Pirate “fans” booed him. He was always a class act and an all-star here. He never really did anything that ticked me off.

Later in the game I moved to seats closer to my parents who were attending the game. The third largest crowd in PNC Park history was on hand, primarily to see the post-game Skyblast show featuring the band Huey Lewis and the News.

The Pirates were able to get just enough offense. A two-run double by Andrew McCutchen was the difference. Despite getting hit hard, and struggling with his control at times, McDonald was able to keep the Mets in check.

Since all of the 39,000+ were sticking around, the atmosphere was really electric as Joel Hanrahan mowed down the Mets in the 9th to preserve the 3-2 victory.

The show after the game didn’t disappoint either. If you have never been to a Skyblast show before, I highly suggest you check one out. It is a big pyrotechnic extravaganza featuring fireworks and live music.

There were fireworks from every place you could imagine including the field, the barges on the river, the Roberto Clemente bridge, and the scoreboard.

Some were even fired off of the skyscrapers across the river.

Huey Lewis had a good show, though I wouldn’t rank it at the top of the ones I have seen. I must say I am really looking forward to when Train comes in August. There aren’t many better ways to spend seven dollars.

Here is my pull. I noticed how the balls the Mets used had the logos way off center and crooked.

Sunday

Yeah it was another forgettable game after a very good one the night before. Kevin Correia pitched very well, but came unglued in the 8th inning when the Mets blew the game open. The only excitement for the Pirates on offense came when Lyle Overbay flew out to deep center field. The firework controller thought it was a homer but it wasn’t even close. He launched them by mistake. Clint Hurdle was ejected after arguing that the center fielder Angel Pagan trapped the ball against the wall. It was yet another great day for baseball so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Monday

I could see the finish line. Attending four games in four days is quite a grind, and Monday’s would be the last one needed to complete the task. I wasn’t feeling batting practice, so I headed to the stadium for first pitch. It was a cool night that was dominated by another great outing from Pirate pitcher Paul Maholm who mowed down the Mets. I was also very impressed by the play of new catcher Mike McKenry who was acquired from the Red Sox just hours before the game. There were a couple of crazy plays including fielder interference that led to the first Pirate run, a home run by Brandon Wood, and a near triple play. Hanny shut it down for the 17th time in 17 chances. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. The game went very quick as it wasn’t even dark yet when the game was in it’s late stages. The city had a weird orange tint as the sun set.

I saw some good and saw some bad in my first game back, and I am looking forward to spending many more summer days and nights at the ballpark.

Danny Hultzen: Who will be #1?

Here is a snapshot of University of Virginia southpaw Danny Hultzen, another name being thrown around as a potential #1 overall pick.

Danny Hultzen

Height/Weight/Age: 6’3″/200/21

Position: Pitcher

School: University of Virginia

Scouting Report:

This crafty southpaw relies more on pinpoint control and pitch movement than power to get batters out. His fastball is usually in the 91-93 MPH range but features late life that can deceive batters. His slider and slurve have been described as above average and feature plenty of movement, though he is still tinkering with his slider. He has pinpoint control that makes up for the lack of velocity. He still has some mechanical issues that may have to be addressed, as he throws across his body at times.

Why the Pirates will draft him

Injury Risk– Since he relies less on power and more on control, this makes Hultzen a slightly less likely candidate to suffer from injury, though that isn’t a guarentee.

Compliments- A crafty left handed pitcher would compliment the power arm of Taillon well in the rotation.

Why the Pirates won’t draft him

The Price is Wrong– Reports out of Hultzen’s camp said that the pitcher would demand a $13 million dollar contract. To put that in perspective, Stephen Strasburg received $15.1 million in contract and bonus money. There is no way a player that profiles as a #2 pitcher at the most will get that kind of money.

Haven’t we tried this before?– Much throughout Dave Littlefield’s tenure, the Pirates spent high draft picks on pitchers that profiled very similarly to Hultzen. We all know how that turned out. While it’s a much higher risk, power arms usually yield better potential for great rewards.

With the draft taking place next week, the months of scouting and preparation will come to an end, with the Pirates adding a highly touted prospect with the first pick. The fact there isn’t a clear front-runner will make this the most intriguing draft the Pirates will have in some time.